Because leadership is now one of the five priority areas for ULI, the ULI Robert C. Larson Leadership Initiative held five programs at the 2011 Real Estate Summit at the Spring Council Forum in Phoenix this May.

First was a joint breakfast and program cohosted with the ULI Women’s Leadership Initiative. After a welcome by Eric Larson, chair of the Larson Leadership Advisory Board and CEO of the Larson Realty Group, the mission of the Women’s Leadership Initiative was articulated by Kathleen Carey, chief operations officer, global investment, at GE Capital Real Estate and a member of the Larson Leadership Initiative Advisory Board. That mission is “to increase the number and visibility of women leaders in the real estate industry and in ULI,” she said. More than 150 people attended to network and hear Karen Otazo, managing director of Global Leadership Network Inc., speak about women’s roles in leadership and how women can “set the tone” for leadership activities. Real estate has one of the lowest percentages of women leaders of any industry, Otazo said. She spoke of how women can move beyond mentoring to sponsor younger women to be future leaders.

Part of the group then broke into roundtables to discuss the Women’s Leadership Initiative, including questions such as skills needed to lead a successful real estate company in the next decade, ways to improve these skills, assets that women leaders contribute to the success of their teams, and how ULI can expand the number and visibility of women leaders in the industry and the Institute.

At the second annual Larson Leadership Summit, held immediately afterward, nearly 60 ULI trustees and governors heard an extraordinary keynote address by John Bucksbaum of General Growth Companies. In the address, titled “General Growth Properties and the Financial Crisis: One Man’s Journey,” Bucksbaum chronicled the rise, fall, and rebound of General Growth and his own sometimes agonizing story of the aftermath. Bucksbaum received a two-minute standing ovation following his remarks; many in attendance—some ULI members for more than 40 years—said it was one of the best ULI events they had ever attended. It was “pure ULI,” is how one member put it.

The summit concluded with a panel on “Next Generation Cities,” moderated by Marta Goldsmith, senior vice president of the ULI Foundation. The three panelists—Ron Altoon, partner of Altoon and Porter; Gayle Farris, principal of GB Farris Strategies Inc.; and Maureen McAvey, executive vice president of initiatives at ULI—discussed the great opportunities for cities given that the majority of the world’s population will be living in urban areas and that new anchors such as education and health care facilities will create critical mass to stimulate economic vitality.

In a highly interactive session, a panel of ULI trustees shared best practices and lessons learned about leading their organizations into the future. Jim Curtis of Bristol Group, Harry Frampton of East West Partners, Teri Frankiewicz of Crown Development, Tara Hernandez of JCH Development, Lauralee Martin of Jones Lang LaSalle, and Steve Navarro of the Furman Company shared how they have positioned their organizations to navigate through the inevitable real estate cycles, continually evaluating market conditions, assessing risk, setting strategy to maximize the value of their assets, and adapting to changes in the economic environment. Themes such as implementing innovation and empowerment, keeping people motivated, taking time to relax, and creating backup plans emerged in an engaging and continual interaction with the audience.

A separate event, the Leadership Lab, was a more intimate session for full members only, focusing on what leaders in the industry need to know in order to make the right decisions for their enterprises in these changing times. The lab was divided into two parts. First, ULI incoming chairman Peter Rummell was interviewed by ULI CEO Patrick Phillips using a Charlie Rose format. Again, there was much audience interaction, beginning with a question to everyone attending: “Who was the leader you most looked up to?” Rummell’s answer was Michael Eisner, who was CEO of Disney when Rummell worked there. Other answers ranged from Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt to ULI legends Bob Larson and Charles Fraser, to mom and dad. A particularly poignant story Rummell told involved a recent occasion in which he and other leaders in his community backed a mayoral candidate of the opposite political party because “It was the right thing to do.”

The second part of the event, “Leadership Lessons from the Pros,” featured Larson Advisory Board member Bill Ferguson of Ferguson Partners, who talked about the leadership lessons in his ULI book Keepers of the Castle; he was joined by a panel of longtime members, including Advisory Board member Tom Toomey, CEO and president of UDR Inc.; Quintin Primo III, CEO and chairman of Capri Capital Partners; Ron Terwilliger, former ULI chairman and chairman emeritus of Trammel Crow Residential; and Richard Saltzman, CEO of Colony Capital. The discussion ranged from distinguishing between tactics and strategic issues, balancing risk and return, going global, and diversification.

The Larson Leadership Initiative has also developed leadership modules for use on Product Council Day at the ULI fall and spring meetings. This spring’s session focused on leadership skills members had used in their businesses in the past six months. Bill Lashbrook, senior vice president, PNC Real Estate Finance, led a two-hour session for the Responsible Property Investment Council on leadership, including leadership legacies and the proudest moments of leadership. The group also addressed the role of women in leadership.